WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • US Special Representative to the W. Balkans and DAS Matthew Palmer addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing titled, “Successes and Unfinished Business in the Western Balkans.”
  • Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told Voice of America: “Palmer and Grenell are cooperating. I have discussed with both of them and I know they have a plan, which will be focused on economic potential. I think they can achieve something and manage to return both parties at the negotiation table and work with them.”
  • But Bosnian Serb Member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik refuted Palmer’s comments that he is blocking forming a government and accused him of lying. He said, “Had he told the truth why Bosnia didn’t form the government one year after the election, I don’t think anyone in the Senate would have believed him that one man, one republic, can stand in the way of anything of the sort, let alone in the way of progress…The progress of the Republika Srpska (RS) entity and Bosnia and Herzegovina, if Bosnia’s progress is reflected on the RS is in our interest, and not necessarily in the interest of the US, Russia, Turkey or any other country.”
  • Watch the full hearing that includes a panel with CEPA’s Janusz Bugajski and Johns Hopkins’ Majda Ruge here.
  • Kosovo’s media reports that Palmer will be in Pristina on Friday to meet with party and institutional leaders.
  • Meanwhile, career member of the Senior Foreign Service Yuri Kim of Guam is scheduled tomorrow to have a full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for her nomination as US Ambassador to Albania. This follows new US Ambassador to Serbia Anthony Godfrey presenting his credentials to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on October 23.
  • Also in Washington DC, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic received the Fulbright Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In her speech, she noted she grew up on the “wrong side of the Iron Curtain” and advocated for equality for women’s rights. US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst was in attendance. 
  • Wrapping up happenings in Washington DC – Chairman of Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic met with Menachem Rosensaft, the Deputy Director of the World Jewish Congress.
  • On the sidelines of the NATO meeting in Brussels, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met with Montenegrin Minister of Defense Predrag Boskovic. The focus was Montenegro’s progress in transitioning from legacy Soviet defense equipment, equitable burden-sharing, combined efforts to defeat ISIS, and current operations in Afghanistan.
  • Vice-Mayor of South Gate, California, Denise Diaz (D) and Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly Tyler Vorpagel (R) were in Croatia to promote the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) initiative. They stopped by the N1 studio and gave a full interview.
  • Serbian Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine held a luncheon in New York City to benefit hospitals in Serbia. 
  • Crown Princess Katherine noted, “My humanitarian efforts for Serbia started 26 years ago by providing medical equipment for the University Children Hospital in Belgrade. Children, their health and their well-being are in the very core of all my humanitarian activities, as well as the activities of my foundation in Belgrade and all Lifeline humanitarian organizations whose patron I am. There is a very difficult situation with children’s hospitals in Serbia and they need to be equipped properly, much better than now, in order for our doctors and nurses to provide appropriate care for our sick children. After this event, when you meet your family members or friends, and they ask you what have you been doing today? You can proudly say that you have been saving children’s lives.”
  • Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec will meet today with Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban. Their talks are focused on bilateral relations, economic development, and topical development, according to STA.  
  • Slovenia + Croatia (does not equal) Schengen: After confident remarks last week from Croatia PM Andrej Plenkovic about admission to the visa free zone, Slovenia has quickly poured water on the fire.  Slovenia PM Marjan Sarec and Slovenian MEP Milan Brglez and others have pointed to concerns about the Croatian border with Bosnia. Slovenia is adjusting to 12,000 migrants primarily from the Middle East and South Asia who illegally entered the country by way of Bosnia and Croatia.
  • Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic signed the free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on October 25 in Moscow. Serbia can now export to over 183 million people included in the EAEU.
  • The EU has criticized Serbia’s agreement, but taking a closer look at the top 10 exporters from Serbia to Russia, only two companies are Serbian. The number 1? France’s Tyger Tyres which is owned by Michelin.
  • Russia will send S-400s to Serbia for the Slavic Shield 2019 military exercises. 
  • Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic welcomed counterpart from the Democratic Republic of Congo Félix Antoine Tshisekedi to Belgrade on Friday. They praised relations between the two and hoped to increase cooperation in the military-technical, agricultural, and technological sectors.
  • Bosnian Serb Member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik met with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Saturday. They spoke about how Azerbaijan will supply gas through the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska, which is now solely supplied by Russia’s Gazprom. Dodik also encouraged Azerbaijan to enter the infrastructure sphere during the talks. 
  • Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama plans to sue former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj for libel over claims that Rama, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, and Serbia’s Vucic were planning to steal 10 billion euros from a mining complex.
  • Kosovo’s probable Prime Minister Albin Kurti met with Rama on Saturday for three hours. Kurti said they are “different people people, and different politicans, this doesn’t stop us from cooperation.” 
  • Kurti had a big weekend – he noted that, if in charge, his government would take a second look at all agreements signed with Serbia. 
  • And at the Southeast Europe Peace Summit in Albania, he noted, “The wall which separated us and which brought to an end the Cold War fell 30 years ago. Today, we have coldness without war and somewhere also with war, and instead of the Great Wall we have built small walls dividing us. We need peace everywhere and all the time. Because peace is the chance for citizens, nations, and society bloom. But peace needs to fight poverty and unemployment, inequality and injustice. And, needs good neighbourly relations between our countries by making relevant joint values and interests, aspiring the EU and NATO, development, welfare and security. The Western Balkans and the European Union are very important to each-other.”
  • Nevertheless, he kept firm on the stance with Srpska Lista in government – he will have one Serb minister in government but it doesn’t necessarily mean the person would be from the Belgrade backed party. 
  • THE BOMBSHELL – he called for Kosovo President Hashim Thaci to resign “because people opted for changes.” See his full interview with ABC News (in Albanian) here.
  • Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic says that there is no alternative to recognition of Kosovo at the Southeast Europe Peace Summit. He said, “No one is offering anything except recognition of Kosovo. If you know someone who is offering anything else, show me. Show me anyone who I promised an independent Kosovo, show me that person.”
  • BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?: The European Parliament passed a resolution by 412 for, 136 against, and 36 neutral to put Albania and N. Macedonia’s EU accession talks on the table once more.  
  • Politicians from N. Macedonia and international figures met as a part of the Ohrid Group to make a final push for NATO accession, including president Stevo Pendarovski.
  • “On Friday (25 October 2019), the Defense Ministers of Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Regional Special Operations Component Command (R-SOCC). Under the leadership of Hungary, this multinational command will increase the ability of these four nations to effectively employ their special forces.” (NATO HQ)
  • “The government has sent to Brussels the names of three candidates for a job at the emerging European Public Prosecutor’s Office, according to the newspaper Delo. The candidates are prosecutors Jaka Brezigar, Tanja Frank Eler and Marjana Grašič.” (Slovenia Times
  • ” The head of Slovenia’s largest fuel retailer Petrol, Tomaz Berlocnik, who led the company since 2011, said he resigned on Thursday, along with two other top managers of the company.” (Reuters)
  • RANKED #1: Unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, Belgrade was ranked #1 in air pollution on Saturday beating out usual frontrunners like Beijing and Dehli.
  • CRIME: Police safely removed three bombs found outside the National Assembly of Republika Srpska building in Banja Luka. No further word on culprits. Police in Bosnia and Herzegovina arrested Milan Trisic in Sarajevo after being deported from the United States. He is accused of committing crimes against humanity in Bratunac.
  • KOSOVO SPECIALIST CHAMBERS: Former KLA commander for the Drenica region, Zenel Shala, will be interviewed in Pristina on November 5th. Shala did not mention if he would be interviewed as a suspect or witness.
  • MIGRANTS: Police in N. Macedonia found 81 migrants in a house near the Serbian border. 

IN OTHER NEWS…

  • AWARENESS: “Bosnian genocide survivors who moved to Central PA share experiences at Dickinson event” (VIDEO) in ABC 27 News” Bosnian genocide survivors shared their stories at Dickinson College’s Genocide, Justice and Hope event Saturday.Organizers say more than 1,500 Bosnian refugees live in Central Pennsylvania. Survivors united and revealed the toughest moments in their lives in an effort to heal and stop history from repeating itself.”
  • AWARENESS: “Genocide story told to students” by Elinor Glynn in The Ballymoney and Moyle Times (UK): “Pupils from Ballymena and the wider Mid and East Antrim area have heard the poignant story of a genocide survivor at the Braid. Safet Vukalić, a Bosnian Muslim who survived persecution in Bosnia in the 1990s, coming to the UK as a refugee in 1994, was in Ballymena recently to talk about his own personal experience and give an insight into some of the most unimaginable events. Students from St Louis Grammar School, Slemish College, Dunclug College and St Patrick’s College attended the event. Three genocide visitors will visit over 50 schools and organisations across Northern Ireland, taking their stories to over 4,000 people.”
  • CULTURE: Across Croatia this past weekend, students are trying to plant 10,000 trees.
  • MEDICINE: “Dogs Trust: Illegal imports risk disease rise” (VIDEO)  in BBC News: “Dogs Trust veterinary nurse Nicola Wheatley hopes that by teaching vets in Bosnia how to neuter the animals, the number of puppies born on the streets will drop and the need for overseas adoption will decrease. ‘There’s no need for them to be transported to another country where they don’t know what’s expected from them,’ said the nurse, who worked in Basildon, Essex.”
  • TRAVEL: Sarajevo Airport proudly welcomed 1M passengers in 2019. The airport has a record year with numbers in November and December expected to exceed 2018 statistics.